January 29, 2015 18:20 UTC

In Pakistan, a Big Push to Teach English; Local Versions Flourish

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on WORDMASTER: English teaching in Pakistan.

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "I'm Shujaat Hussain. I teach at an Islamabad college, Federal Government Postgraduate College, Islamabad. I'm working there as assistant professor of English language and literature. During the seventies and eighties there was this nationalistic [surge] and there were many people who said English should not be emphasized as much as our national language, Urdu.

"But now increasingly, after the nineteen nineties, people started realizing that the English language, after all, is now a global language, and even if we want to have this break with our colonial hangover, yet we've got to learn English. So the government is now hiring a lot of teachers. There is also this realization that even -- I mean, my students, in public schools, in public colleges, even with their rudimentary knowledge of English, now they are able to work in call centers. And one of my students, he once told me that all his knowledge and his learning of engineering and other things never paid him. Only English language eventually paid him. So this means that there is this increasing realization that people are going for English language."

AA: "Is English a required subject in lower grades or in high school?"

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "Previously it was not. Especially in government schools, they started English from sixth grade. But the new policy is to start English, even in the government schools, from grade one."

AA: "What about the madrassas, the religious schools, is English being taught in the curriculum there?"

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "I've not visited any of these madrassas, but I've heard because one of my friends was working with this institution, they set up this new administration for madrassas where they would hire new teachers, teachers of computer science and English teachers, and the madrassa administration, they wouldn't have to pay for those teachers. The government would pay for those teachers.

"Madrassa students really looked forward to this, because they wanted to be integrated into the larger sections of society, into the mainstream. So there was lot of enthusiasm. I met a few madrassa students and they told me that, we really -- in fact, even in the mosque schools there have been attempts by some people to teach English. Even in the mosques. I mean, the madrassas are separate buildings that are attached to mosques, but then there are certain other schools, certain other seminaries which are inside the mosque compounds, even there they're teaching English. So I think it will get better."

AA: "What about, you know, around the world there are different Englishes and they develop their own local idioms. What are some local Pakistani terms that maybe Americans or other speakers of English may not understand?"

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "Well, first of all, I must tell you that the word 'cool' is very popular in Pakistan, especially among teenagers."

AA: "Cool, c-o-ol."

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "Yeah, c-o-o-l, and even the other versions, like k-o-o-l. But, of course, if you see that Pakistan is a multiethnic society, we have Punjabis, Sindhis. So there is Pinglish, there is Sindhish. There are all sorts of Englishes. But the dominant, I think, feature of Pakistani English is that there are many Urdu words, that [speakers] keep switching the code all the time. So even very educated Pakistanis, they've got to switch the code because when you go to the street you've got to use Urdu or your local language."

AA: "Now but what about, let's say, with grammar and syntax, are you seeing among the South Asian Englishes, are you seeing a move away from let's say American English and British English to its own form? Or are the teachers trying to stick to one or the other?"

SHUJAAT HUSSAIN: "Well, teachers everywhere are rather a conservative group. They want to stick to the standards and the standard English. But practically speaking, what you said earlier -- that there is a move towards a local version of English -- unconsciously, spontaneously, people are moving towards that. It's not, I mean the English teachers won't be able to sort of stop this."

AA: Shujaat Hussain is an assistant professor of English language and literature at the Federal Government Postgraduate College in Sector H-8 in Islamabad. He was in New York for the recent TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, convention. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. We're online at voanews.com/wordmaster. I'm Avi Arditti.

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